Confessions of a COE


The other day Shep and I started wrestling around on the bed in play.  I'm a lot smaller than he is, but that doesn't really matter much - a wife can figure out all sorts of devious ways to give as good as she gets in such areas: I take advantage of my lower center of gravity, and I know all the most sensitive tickle spots.

Left breathless by our spirited play, we finally fell back on the bed, panting slightly and enjoying the sound of the Saturday afternoon rain on the window.  After a bit, Shep pulled me close, kissed my forehead, and whispered in my ear, "This is the wife I dreamed of."

Less than a year ago, I was nearly as far from Shep's "dream wife" - from the woman he had thought he was marrying - as it was possible to get.  At six feet one inch tall, Shep weighs 200 pounds; at five feet four inches tall, I outweighed him by eight pounds (that was my all-time high, and I pray earnestly for the strength to prevent that from ever happening again).  In addition to this (as if that wasn't enough!), I was an emotional basket case, a nervous wreck, and a nagging shrew with a self-esteem that was right up there with pond scum.  My health was poor, my energy-level was at "E," and I accomplished almost nothing outside work (and had trouble at work, as well).  Why would an intelligent woman do this to herself, to her husband?  Why would she behave in a manner that would threaten her marriage and her very life?

Hi.  My name is Jean, and I am a compulsive eater.  What is compulsive eating disorder, you ask?  Compulsive eaters feel incapable of controlling how much or how often they eat. They may feel unable to stop eating, eat very fast, eat when they're not hungry, eat only when they're alone, or eat nearly non-stop throughout the day. Compulsive eaters often over-indulge in sugary or starchy foods and use them in an attempt to elevate their moods. When they don't eat the foods they crave, they often experience severe withdrawal symptoms (like headaches, shakiness, sugar "crashes," and more).  It is an eating disorder that gets a lot less attention than bulimia or anorexia, but one which, I suspect, is a lot more prevalent in our society today.

Why do people become compulsive eaters?  Well, there are a million reasons, and sometimes maybe even no reason at all.  I'm sure you've heard the phrase, "It's not what you're eating; it's what's eating you."  That can be part of it - bingeing can produce a "high" or "buzz" from the release of endorphins into the brain which becomes a coping mechanism for people dealing with stress, anxiety, or the aftermath of life with a dysfunctional family.  It tends to run in families, but not always.  It can be a physical addiction similar to nicotine addiction, where sugary and/or starchy foods produce a similar calming effect that requires ever-larger quantities of food to maintain.  Either way, it is a progressive, destructive addiction, leading to many problems both physical and emotional.

Shep didn't know I was a compulsive eater when I married him.  I'm ashamed to say that I kept it from him.  In my defense, I can only offer that I had really only just figured it out myself, and I had hopes that I could control it on my own and keep it out of our life together.  My poor eating habits had begun in childhood and my weight had yo-yoed up and down over the years.  By the time I met Shep (at twenty-five), I began to realize something was not right about the way I viewed food.  People without weight problems did not obsess about it the way I did.  Normal people didn't lock themselves in their rooms with a book, and use a bag of chips or a box of cookies to escape life's problems.  People often say, "Diets don't work."  Well, that's not true: diets do work if you follow them and your goal is to lose weight.  If, however, you are COE (compulsive overeater), they won't work to keep the weight off because you're only addressing part of the problem; what you need is a lifestyle change.  To a COE, going on a diet alone would be like a person with bronchitis taking cough medicine, but no antibiotics - she's treating a symptom of the problem and not the problem itself.

At the time I met Shep, I was in one of my brief periods of control; after we married and moved out-of-state, I spiraled out of control.  Probably my difficulty in finding a job triggered the spiral; along with my loneliness in the new home and adjusting to married life.  Eventually, things improved: we moved to a wonderful new home, I got a great job and went back to grad school, Shep was happy with his work and we were out of debt - I had no reason to be unhappy.  But I was - I was way out of control, eighty pounds overweight, exhausted all the time, fearful of meeting new people out of shame over my appearance, and as moody as if I was going through menopause.  

I am unsure to this day how Shep managed to put up with the obese, irritable woman who took his wife's place.  His goodness, commitment to our marriage and honesty made me feel worse and worse about myself, until at last I knew I had to tell